I can’t reach my kids. And I think I know why. They have the attention spans of minnows. I can’t say that only children have this problem. We adults are just as bad with our iPhones and web browsing. Hell, I probably already lost you. 😉
I have this desire to be a meaningful guide.
It’s very frustrating because my kids don’t care. They can’t. I used to think it was my fault because I didn’t do enough engaging activities with them, but I’ve found that even if I do, very often they don’t want to join in or halfway through the event their eyes roll back in their heads as they seize with boredom. I have asked them to fully participate for more than ten minutes. They can’t take it. Where’s the commercial break? Where’s the reward for killing all the militant zombies? Why hasn’t something exploded? My mom, a former pre-school teacher, said that toward the end of her teaching tenure she practically had to be Houdini to keep the kids’ attention. I don’t even know if Houdini could entertain my kids for more than one daring act.
I can and will take the low hanging fruit and blame television and technology for the epidemic of short term focus. Each Disney tween show is jam packed with loud dialogue, constant movement, and shallow characters. Not a message or a moral to be found. When there is no message or moral the brain goes on vacation and becomes a vapid vacuum of passivity in rolling fifteen minute increments. And yes, I know if I was a real concerned parent I would yank the flatscreen off the wall and go all Kashi anti-boobtube. And by the way, we do limit T.V., but the damage is insidious. Other screens creep in, such as iTouches and computers. YouTube offers snippets of reality for hours of ricocheting between banal song parodies and what the world’s fattest girl is up to. I actually observed my son’s mouth gape open, as he gazed into the flicker of his monitor, spittle and his soul slowly dripping over his lower lip onto the exercise ball he uses for a chair. At this point, I can still save him by rush-tackling his languid body, knocking him to the ground, and dousing him with cold water. Who knows if that will work forever?
A recent attempt to thwart the attention sucking screens met with frustration and despair (mine not theirs). I so desire to be the family that stays together because we play together, but mental effort is a barrier. I hinted for weeks for Bryce (oldest 11) to help me pick out seeds for our deck garden. No bites. I bought the seeds myself. I asked, Who wants to help me plant seeds? Crickets. Finally, one day after school I was able to get Anna (7) and Bryce to help. To be honest, Bryce had sprained his ankle and was physically incapable of getting away from me. Our middle son, Josh, was at a friend’s (most likely playing Xbox). Five minutes into the planting, Anna’s best friend arrives at our house. Anna wants to be done, but I talk her into five more minutes of helping. Bryce starts planting but doesn’t even think of reading the directions on the back of the packet – too time consuming. After each type of vegetable he asks if he can be done. So much for a meaningful activity shared between family members. Just last year Bryce loved farming with me. He kept saying This is fun mom! Novelty is fleeting.
While ranting into this piece, three insights came to me:
1. I need to do more active, sporty, large-motor skilled activities with the family. Admittedly, not my favorite, but I have been known to throw a baseball around or take a bike ride through the neighborhood. Swimming is the one activity I resist because swimming and I are like Twinkies and tuna. We don’t mix. I see running, fishing and strength training in our future.
2. I have a real fear of my kids growing up to be robotical twits with the depth of a cookie sheet. Maybe it’s because it took me 35 years to freely express myself and I don’t want them to waste time being dim. They could be exploring this amazing planet and sharing excitement with other colorful beings.
3. I can’t make the kids find meaning in things. I can only introduce them to opportunities. They have to learn through intimate experiences, not just an intellectual presentation. I know they have their own definitions of meaningful. They are not me. As an introvert, I naturally gravitate toward activities with a slow pace and deep messages. I realize kids prefer liveliness. I also know I don’t do well pinballing between activities. I’m one errand away from a breakdown when I’m burned out. My energy is limited by this, theirs isn’t. Fortunately, my husband doesn’t mind swimming or afternoon trips to the rock wall. I just have to pry him away from his computer and iPhone…
The One Thing That Works
We have found traveling to be the perfect family activity. It combines action and adventure with exploring and meaning. Of course, we can’t travel every week of the year, but in between trips, we can visit nearby attractions and landmarks or discuss and plan the next journey. The best part about traveling… boobtube and YouTube can be left at home.
Is technology giving or taking away meaning in our lives? How do you maintain humanity in your home?
When Parenting Overwhelms (space2live)
In Defense of Introverted Parents (space2live)
Live…Naturally: Less Technology, More Meaning (space2live)
Like to read more on how to regain focus and meaning in life? Check this out http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/02/take-back-your-attention.html
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